Gigabyte shows off GTX 480 SOC

In a sneak-peek launch event for press today, Gigabyte introduced us to its new top-dog graphics card, the Gigabyte GTX 480 SOC.

Continuing its ongoing strategy to establish itself as the go-to brand for overclocking, Gigabyte has built the GTX 480 SOC (super overclock) that offers dual high-end operating modes. While in the ole days we had a standard operating mode and an alternative 'Turbo' mode that would overclock your GPU at the touch of a button, Gigabyte has decided to give you the SOC and the LN2 modes.

So you get top level overclocking and extreme overclocking for you chaps who like to chill their GPUs with copper crucibles filled to the brim with liquid nitrogen (or helium). A press of the button (and a reboot, we presume) will turn your overclocked GTX 480 into an insane and expensive thermite plasma device that requires massive cooling.

Gigabyte leveraged its experience in designing power-managed mobos and built from there. The company designed a custom PCB (no cutouts) with heavy changes to the power circuitry with the inclusion of 12+2 power phases for the GPU and memory. Unlike competing designs (MSI Lightning) the power requirements for this card look like they are sub-300W as it carries a simple 8 pin + 6 pin PEG combo (PCIe provides 75W, the 8 pin provides 150W and 6 pin provides a further 75W), so you needn't buy a new power supply to use it.

The GPU is a standard GF100, not a cherry-picked one or a new stepping (it actually uses the same A3 stepping from the Fermi launch day), so the performance and extreme overclocking is really up to clean power and efficiency provided by the power circuitry.

Of course the firm also removed a few limitations on the GPU by programming a new firmware that turns a blind eye to certain failsafes. When someone asked what would happen if "someone inadvertently pressed the button and switched to LN2 mode would there be a failsafe in place?", the PR bunny quipped: "We will have to put a warning on the box".

Including an LED showing which mode you're at (none that we saw, but then again the card wasn't plugged in) might be what is considered "a good idea".

Et voilá, the Gigabyte GTX 480 SOC gets nekkid.

If you're eagle-eyed like us you'll notice the little Clear CMOS button on the bottom right corner close to another mystery connector. The Clear CMOS restores the VGA BIOS to SOC mode, so you can have another go at a meltdown. The mystery connector was later revealed to be a console connection so that you can plug it into an OC Guru to monitor and document your achievements.

We weren't officially introduced to the cooler to be used on this particular unit but we suspect Gigabyte will use their latest triple fan technology which offests each wind geneator at a slightly different angle in order to maximise airflow.

You can see below what Gigabyte's done with its power settings, pretty extreme stuff. You'll want some serious liquid cooling for the higher setting.

The quest for VGA dominance continues - in particular the quest for dominance over Asus, in what is becoming rather tedious sibling rivalry - and Gigabyte seems to be in the unique position of leveraging its power management know-how into a fine overclocking product that should eke out every MHz it can from Fermi.

Gigabyte did not disclose pricing or an exact launch date; however we're inclined to believe it will take place in two to three weeks time, close to AMD's own launch.